5 Run Despite Uncertainty of O.C. Election

Times Staff Writer

Five men are spending nearly a quarter-million dollars and countless hours campaigning to become Orange County's 3rd District supervisor.

Despite all the money and effort, it's uncertain if the Jan. 28 special election to fill the vacant seat will take place. And neither candidates nor voters will know until three days before that date -- at the earliest.

The candidates vying to represent 600,000 people in a district stretching from the rustic canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains to the master-planned communities in Irvine range from a postal worker with no political experience to a termed-out state assemblyman dubbed "The Machine" by his opponents.

They are seeking to fill the seat Todd Spitzer vacated when he was elected to the state Assembly late last year. The election was made possible by Measure V, a voter-approved initiative that called for vacant supervisorial seats to be filled by elections rather than by the governor. But the measure is being challenged in court.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Measure V is underway, with a trial beginning in Judge Andrew P. Banks' courtroom Tuesday.

The trial is expected to last a few days, with closing arguments scheduled Friday. Banks has said he would decide over the weekend, meaning the earliest anyone would know if the election is proceeding is Saturday -- three days before the polls would open.

Former Assemblyman Bill Campbell has raised $230,000 and has been endorsed by dozens of officials, including Sheriff Mike Carona, Supervisors Tom Wilson and Jim Silva, and Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Campbell has lined up scores of volunteers to go door to door the weekend before the election, and his mailers show Campbell alongside President Bush.

Campbell, 60, said among his biggest concerns is the fiscal mismanagement in the planning department that led to a fifth of its staff being laid off. "When you see one of these, the concern is there may be others. It's a serious red flag that you're out of control," he said.

Candidate Jim Potts, an Irvine police officer, had sworn off politics after 10 years on the Tustin City Council. But then he received a mailer promoting Campbell for the board seat. He was incensed. "Everyone and his brother had endorsed him.... It's typical of what happens," he said. "You're anointed to that position. It's a club and you're picked."

Potts, 49, has spent $10,000 of his own money, and doesn't accept contributions.

"This board goes along. They have never had an original idea. They never think beyond their terms. They never have passion," he said. "I'll either be the breath of fresh air or the broom that sweeps some of the people out."

To deal with the state budget crisis that may cost the county's general fund $30 million, Potts would trim employee costs and privatize some county functions.

Candidate William Wetzel, 42, an assistant professor at Santa Ana College, has been involved in politics since 1989, including supporting Wally Wade's unsuccessful campaign to oust Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. This is his first attempt at elected office.

"I didn't see anyone on the slate representative of our community's interest," he said.

His top priority would be dealing with health care for the county's indigent. Wetzel would seek solutions within the private sector.

"We have to come up with a short-term solution really quickly to save lives," he said.

Candidate Douglas Boeckler opposes using county money to pay for a Great Park at El Toro. He also wants to ensure the groundwater contamination is removed before the military relinquishes control of it.

Boeckler, 62, has worked at the county's Veterans Services office for three decades. He said the wisdom he gained there makes him an ideal fit for the post in this time of fiscal crises.

"The board needs experience on budget matters. I have the experience presently needed on the Board of Supervisors," he said. "I don't think we need a politician in that office."

The lone Democrat, Boeckler said canyon development should accommodate the oak grove that is to be chopped down to make way for homes. Candidate Robert Douglas, 44, an Ohio native who served in the Marine Corps for seven years, said he decided to run when he learned of the challenges facing the county.

He called for examining county expenditures every quarter, additional accountability for department heads and better maintenance of county roads and parks.

"We need someone like myself who will bring fresh ideals, not a seasoned career politician," said Douglas, a postal worker in Santa Ana and a reserve sheriff's deputy for Los Angeles County.

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